The 2020 presidential election is rapidly approaching. With the national day of mourning for George Herbert Walker Bush on Wednesday, closure arrives for our 41st President.
At the same time, candidates are lining up for the presidential election of 2020.
Ten years ago, as the 2008 party conventions loomed, I wrote a Wall Writings posting that identified outstanding political films, ending with my choice as to the best film ever made about politics.
This feels like the right time to revisit the Wall Writings archives to see if my 2008 analysis still stands. After a close look, I find that the films have not changed, but what has changed is the national culture within which the films are evaluated.
What follows is a revised version of that 2008 posting, a sequel written 10 years later. Of course, "best" is a personal choice. Readers will have their own list, and will conclude for themselves what is "best." What follows is one critic's opinions.
Looking at the options for the best film about politics, Citizen Kane is often viewed as the best film of any genre, a legitimate claim. It is, indeed, about the political rise and fall of an ambitious man who moves from journalism to politics, assumed to be based on William Randolph Hearst.
Orson Welles directed, wrote and starred in a story about lust for power. I don't view it as a political film because politics is the stage on which Charles Foster Kane's career rises and falls. The dynamics of politics itself, is not the film's focus.
The best ever political film list has to include the 1949 film, All the King's Men, a fictionalized version of Louisiana's Governor Huey Long. In the original novel by Robert Penn Warren and in the film, Long is Willy Stark. He is played by Broderick Crawford in Crawford's finest performance over a long film and television career.
Crawford serves as a (uncredited) narrator in another good, though not great, 1972 political satire, The Candidate, which starred a boyish-looking Senate candidate, Robert Redford.
Closer to the top of my list is John Ford's 1958 film, The Last Hurrah, the story of big city Irish American mayor Frank Skeffington (Spencer Tracy) who seems to float above the ugliness of his final campaign for his reelection. It is clear that Ford sees him as the quintessential political boss, part rogue, part tough guy, and always pragmatically oriented to every important wake in the city.
The film is based on Edwin O'Connor's 1956 novel "The Last Hurrah," a fictionalized version of former Boston Mayor M. Curley.
Tracy invites a nephew who is also a journalist, to travel with him through the campaign, and we are meant to see the campaign through the nephew's eyes.
The close runner up as the best film ever made on politics is The Best Man (1964), written by Gore Vidal from his own original stage play. Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner, the film centers on backstage dramas that unfold during one party's nominating convention.
The leading candidates hold smear cards against the other, ready to be played. The cards are familiar to us today: homosexuality (rarely mentioned this overtly in films in the early 60s), a pending divorce, and mental episodes from the past. Will they be used and who will use them?